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Congress' top Republican uses star power to stump for Paulsen in 3rd District race

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Paul Ryan
Rep. Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, campaigned for Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen on Wednesday. He's facing a challenge from state Sen. Terri Bonoff.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images 2015 file

The top Republican in Congress swooped in Wednesday night to rally support for 3rd District Congressman Erik Paulsen, just the latest sign of how serious both parties are taking the race in a seat Republicans can usually bank on winning. 

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan bounded onto the bed of a truck festooned with hay bales and dried cornstalks in the parking lot of a Plymouth office complex. The Wisconsin congressman made an obligatory rivalry reference.

"This would be about the time where I'd do a Packer-Vikings joke, but I'd be the butt of that joke right now," Ryan cracked.

Paul Ryan campaigns for Erik Paulsen
House Speaker Paul Ryan campaigns for GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen on Nov. 2, 2016, in Minnesota.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Ryan soon got down to business: He warned the couple hundred Paulsen supporters before him that they shouldn't let down their guard with just days to go. He said it was imperative that Paulsen be sent back to Washington to assist Republicans as they rework the nation's health law and its tax code.

"You need to know and I know you do, that Erik Paulsen is the workhorse of all workhorses in Congress," Ryan said. 

He added, "Erik Paulsen knows what makes jobs here. You know this medical device tax? It's crushing jobs here in Minneapolis, in the Twin Cities. You have a big industry here. There is one reason — and I can tell you because I was there for this — there's one reason why this tax is no longer in place in order to help Twin City jobs, and you know what that reason is? Erik Paulsen."

Then Paulsen took the microphone and said he was part of a vanguard to keep Democrats and their leader, Nancy Pelosi, from pushing through a liberal agenda.

"I will never be out-hustled," Paulsen said. "But I need your help and support and I know we can win this race with your help."

Not mentioned during the quick rally: Donald Trump. There were only a few people showing outward support of the GOP presidential nominee with signs, hats or buttons.

Trump has been a fixture in the race as Democrats work to lump Paulsen with the presidential candidate even though Paulsen says he's writing in a different candidate instead.

For her part, DFL challenger state Sen. Terri Bonoff is holding herself out as a pragmatic voice who can help cut through Washington gridlock.

State Sen. Terri Bonoff
State Sen. Terri Bonoff during a debate with Paulsen on Aug. 17, 2016. in Minnetonka, Minn.
Jim Mone | AP file

She appeared hours earlier at a nearby factory with moderate Republicans and independents who vouched for her as a bipartisan legislator. The state senator from Minnetonka says Paulsen has been more ideological than his GOP predecessor in the congressional district.

"I voted for Jim Ramstad every time and I did that with pride. And it didn't matter to me what party he was. I thought he led our district. I am not a partisan person. I believe that we should elect leaders who will in fact be the best fit for the district."

Bonoff refused to say if she ever voted for Paulsen in the four times he's won the suburban district.  Asked twice if she did, Bonoff answered, "who I vote for is my business" and "I'll keep my counsel on that."

Bonoff said Ryan's stop was a sign to her that the race is close despite limited independent public polling showing Paulsen with a clear edge.

She has Democrats with clout promote her candidacy. That includes President Barack Obama and Pelosi, who was in town last month for a fundraiser.

On Wednesday, Bonoff was introduced by Tammy Lee Stanoch, who ran as an independent for Congress in 2006. Stanoch said she voted for Paulsen in past elections but is with Bonoff this time.

"For the first time in eight years, we have a candidate who is a strong contrast to Erik Paulsen," she said. "For the past eight years I like many district residents, have gone to the polls having to make very difficult decisions, having to trade-offs between my socially progressive views and my pro-business job creation views, both critically important to the district."

Terry Schneider, the mayor of Minnetonka and a self-described former moderate Republican, also backed Bonoff. 

"I think she would do a great job of building relationships — keeping with her principles and making sure she is doing the right thing — but listening and acting in a responsible manner as I think all elected officials should," Schneider said.